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Charlie & Gaytha Hillman: Grand Entrepreneurs A solution for Great Aunt Clara became a thriving business

Charlie and Gaytha Hillman’s latest success story began with a nearly tragic furnace fire in the home of Charlie’s great aunt Clara back in 1993. Although she had sensed that something was wrong, 89-year-old Clara, typical of older adults who live alone and protect their independence, “didn’t want to bother anyone.”

After rescuing his aunt and having been shaken by her close call, Charlie put his MIT training and engineering inquisitiveness to work to come up with a solution. He outfitted Clara’s home with the nascent GrandCare product consisting of basic sensors and even a device to automatically turn on The Lawrence Welk Show, her favorite TV program. Although the technology was primitive by today’s standards. Clara was now safe, happy and able to continue living independently at home for the rest of her life. And Charlie began to imagine the possibilities.

Having successfully started technology businesses since the 1980s, the Hillmans returned after some years to the idea of innovating that early version of their monitoring system. Their innovations were so good and so timely that they were invited to the 2005 White House Conference on Aging. In late 2006 Charlie and Gaytha officially launched GrandCare Systems LLC for use in private homes and community care settings. Their mission? To provide high-end technology products and services to improve the lives of the aging and those who care for them.

The Hillmans are boomer entrepreneurs, members of the fastest-growing cohort of business builders in the country. Over the past decade, the highest rate of new-business creation has been posted by the 55-to-64 age group, notes Dane Stangler, senior analyst at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri, in the report “The Coming Entrepreneurship Boom.” Using data from the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, the study finds that from 1996 to 2007, Americans of ages 55 to 64 averaged a rate of entrepreneurial activity roughly one third higher than those of ages 20 to 34.

Perhaps a better appellation for the Hillmans is grand entrepreneurs. “One of the things we’ve liked most about operating small businesses is having our kids, and now our grandkids, around,” says Gaytha. “The most fun is having a few, sometimes all seven, of our grandchildren in the office.”

Asked what they hope their grandchildren will learn from their early exposure to building a business, Charlie and Gaytha are in complete accord: “Do what you’re passionate about, pick yourself up every time you get knocked down and don’t listen to the naysayers.” Good advice that has always worked well for the founders of GrandCare Systems.

GrandCare in the Media

  • On CNN
  • On the Discovery Channel
  • Webinar! Join GrandCare’s aging & technology webinar Thursdays at 1 p.m. Central Time
  • Video: Take a brief tour of GrandCare in action!

A New Midlife Crisis?

Some people are calling entrepreneurship the “new midlife crisis” for the 76-million-strong demographic once thought to be over the hill. Partially due to the economy, but also due to longer, healthier lives and changes in job tenure, 62 percent of working boomers are now expected to stay in the labor force, with real power and influence, for at least nine more years, to 2020.

Richard J. Anthony, Sr., serves as Executive Vice President, GRAND Magazine, and is the author of Organizations, People & Effective Communication.

Christine Crosby

About the author

Christine is the co-founder and editorial director for GRAND Magazine. She is the grandmother of five and great-grandmom (aka Grandmere) to one. She makes her home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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